How and why do snakes produce venom?

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How and why do snakes produce venom?
How and why do snakes produce venom?

Why do snakes need poison? This seemingly simple question has long been the subject of controversy among specialists studying the behavior of these reptiles. Differing from each other in their composition and effects produced, snake venoms are not only unique means for self-defense and food, but also constantly improving tools in the struggle for survival on the planet. After all, almost everyone is afraid of snakes, from us humans to the largest and most dangerous animals. And all because their bite can immobilize, bring unthinkable pain and, in the end, kill. Why did nature endow these creatures with such a unique ability? Let's try to figure it out together in this article.

Why do snakes need poison?

As mentioned, many are afraid of snakes. And, perhaps, not in vain: according to statistics, more than 100,000 people in the world die from snake bites every year. Basically, all these deaths occur as a result of self-defense shown by the predator in relation to humans. Due to the huge variety of poisons produced by snakes, finding an antidote for each of them is sometimes simply impossible, but the difficulties of scientists do not end there. The fact is that over time, snake venoms become more complex in composition, writes Researchers simply do not have time to quickly notice these changes and create new antidotes.

Snake venom is a real cocktail of a variety of substances that are produced by special glands, which in most species are located behind the eyes. Despite all the danger of snake venoms, people have learned to use them for good purposes. With its rich composition of various amino acids, snake venom is often used in medicine as a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory agent.

Amino acids are a kind of building material from which muscles, tendons and even hair are formed.

For a long time, it was believed that the main function of natural poisons is to deter and repel the attack of a predator until the aggressor is killed or wounded. In addition, injecting poison into the body of another living creature, the snake instinctively realizes that the pain acts on it in such a way that it cannot quickly hide to a safe place. Be that as it may, the results of a new study have shown that the "humanity" attributed to snakes, forcing them to use deadly poisons only for self-defense, in fact, has nothing to do with reality.

Snake venoms have found their use even in official medicine.

In order to test the theory of the evolution of snake venom, researchers from Bangor University decided to interview those representatives of the professions who, due to their duty, have to be most often exposed to poisonous bites from snakes. Thus, specially selected snake keepers, reptile researchers and ecologists filled out questionnaires in which they told about the poisonous bites they experienced and, in particular, about the level of pain they experienced.

Do snakes bite painfully?

After interviewing more than 368 people who received a total of 584 bites from 192 different species of snakes, the researchers found that about 30% of all bites of these reptiles have a fairly low level of pain after a few minutes after being bitten; cases when a snake bite led to debilitating pain in the first minutes after an animal attacked a person were identified only in 15%, and 55% of the respondents noted that the snake bites they suffered were almost completely painless.Thus, the theory that snake venom was invented by nature only to scare away a potential enemy in self-defense turned out to be fundamentally wrong.

Sometimes snake bites kill people in just one day. In 1957, scientist Karl Paterson Schmidt, who named more than 200 species of snakes, tried to study the green boomslang tree snake. She bit his thumb, but Karl considered it not very poisonous and just tried to squeeze out blood. After 24 hours, he was no longer alive.

After analyzing the poisons that caused the appearance of acute pain within a few minutes after the bite, the researchers found that they evolved several times in the entire history of their existence in order to inflict as much harm as possible on their victim or adversary. In other words, some poisonous snakes clearly do not intend to simply defend themselves in response to danger, preferring an active attack to the defense.

In the photo - a Brazilian spear-headed snake, the poison of which causes very severe pain

It is difficult to argue with the conclusions of scientists, especially if you carefully study the properties of the venoms of some snakes. Thus, the Brazilian spearhead snake (Bothrops moojeni), considered one of the most venomous snakes on the planet, produces poison with substances whose main function is to cause pain. Spitting cobras have a unique behavioral adaptation to use defensive venom, and their venoms cause severe pain on contact with the eyes. Instinctively realizing the most unprotected places on the victim's body, snakes, although they try to avoid meeting with humans and large animals, are still predators, whose main goal has always been to get food by far from “humane” ways.

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